In the United States, pets are extremely loved. According to a 2015 poll, 95 percent of owners consider their pet to be a part of the family. About half of the owners buy their pet birthday presents. I am a part of that statistic and gave my dog a birthday and Christmas present before she passed.
People who own pets tend to have lower blood pressure, heart rates, and heart disease than those who do not own pets. These health benefits come from exercising and playing with their animal. Pet owners (whether they want to be or not) are usually more active than those who do not own a pet. Some breeds of dogs need more activity than others and it is up to their owners to keep up with their activity level. Many dogs require long walks and that is a health benefit.
The physical benefits of owning pets are great. However, pets can also provide mental health benefits. Pet therapy is becoming more "acceptable" in different health care settings. Even though the studies have been minimal, there has been tremendous benefits of pet therapy and it is now a commonly used practice in children's hospitals.
Pets can provide social support which can decrease depression, anxiety, and loneliness. While there needs to be more studies to determine exactly how animals provide support for humans, there have been some studies done on certain types of animals.
In one study, stressed out adults were asked to pet either a rabbit, a toy, or a turtle. To no surprise, petting the toy had no effect. However, stroking a live creature relieved anxiety.
Horses are one of the most studied therapy animals. They have been involved in medical-treatment plans in Europe since the 1860s. Grooming a horse can reduce symptoms of PTSD in both children and adolescents.
Many animals can help people focus their attention. Individuals at an Alzheimer's-disease facility were asked to observe fish in an aquarium. These individuals ate more, had better nutrition, were more attentive and less lethargic.
Dogs can also reduce symptoms of anxiety. Some research suggests that when children who struggle with reading read aloud to a trained dog, they show fewer symptoms of anxiety.
I work in a stressful and fast paced environment. The patients we see are trusting us with their lives to get sober or help through what they see as a “hopeless situation.” Knowing that is stressful and we could be the reason someone fights another day. Coming home to my dog wagging her tail and greeting me at the door, immediately calmed me down. She was able to help me leave work at work and not take it home. Even when she was sitting next to me and I was petting her, I could sense my heart rate slow, and I felt peaceful.
When she passed, I thought my life ended. She was no longer greeting me at the door, and I could sense the emptiness in my apartment. I could feel my anxiety levels rising and the feeling of loneliness steadily increasing. I felt myself starting to worry about work when I was home and taking on more responsibility than I needed to.
I have always believed the animals have their own "healing power". My dog was a part of my family and losing her felt like losing a part of myself. Now that I do not have a pet, my house feels empty, and I notice that I am more tense. I am now prone to overreact to situations where when I had a dog, I would not have overreacted. It is something that I cannot put into words, but having a dog changed my life for the better.